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No, Koalas are not ‘functionally extinct,’ but that doesn’t mean they’re okay
Bob Walker/Unsplash

A viral Forbes article claiming that koalas have become "functionally extinct" and that 80% of their habitat has been destroyed by Australia's devastating bushfires made its way around social media this weekend.

The problem is, it's not totally true.


Several ecology experts have responded to the article, pointing out that the koala situation in Australia is not that straightforward. The primary source for the "functionally extinct" claim in the Forbes article was the Australia Koala Foundation (AKF), an organization that advocates for the protection and conservation of koalas and their habitats. The functionally extinct designation generally means that an animal's population has dwindled to the point where they no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem and the population is no longer viable. AKF first announced that koalas may be functionally extinct back in May, but koala researchers and scientists say that its inaccurate to paint the koala population with that broad of a brush.

RELATED: When some koalas needed friends, these farmers stepped up.

"I do not believe koalas are functionally extinct—yet," Rebecca Johnson, a koala geneticist at the Australian Museum, told CNET. "That said, the fires are likely to have had a huge impact on what we know are some extremely valuable populations who are important for the long term survival of the species."

Dr. Christine Adams-Hosking, a koala expert at the University of Queensland, toldAustralia's SBS News, "In ecology it's always grey—there's never black and white, because koalas are very hard to track and count. But to say they're functionally extinct all over Australia, you can't possibly say that, because in some places they're doing well—in some places they're over-abundant."

The numbers offered by the AKF in the Forbes article are not definitively backed up by science. Adams-Hosking told SBS that recent expert estimates suggest that there are between 120,000 and 300,000 koalas in Australia—significantly more than the 80,000 count provided by AKF. It's not clear where AKF got the statistic that 80% of koala habitat has been destroyed, though the bushfires certainly are reeking havoc on the species, and that may be true in some specific areas. Hundreds of koalas have been killed in the fires, with heartbreaking and dramatic rescue stories making the news.

Adams-Hosking is clear about the dangers facing the cuddly creatures, but she's also clear about the importance of using scientific methods to gather data and make the most accurate statements about their status. The problem is, in an era of 24/7 breaking news headlines, actual science is comparably slow—and remarkably unsexy. When you add politics into the mix, not-totally-accurate stories sourced from not-total-experts can easily overpower the more measured voice of scientific research.

As Adams-Hosking pointed out to New Scientist, AKF's claims were made on the eve of elections in Australia. The environment and climate change are big issues, and AKF is an advocacy group that has been pushing politicians to take action. Hyperbole is a hallmark of politics, but is anathema to science. When the two overlap in reporting, this is what we get.

"There's a lot of politics going on, and somehow the koala gets involved," said Adams-Hosking.

So are koalas okay or not? The problem with stories like the Forbes article is that they cause people who are concerned about the environment to react strongly and share with passion. Then articles like those referenced above come out, causing people who think environmental concerns are overblown to say, "See? They're wrong! It's debunked! It's fake news!" But reality is always more complex than simple headlines or single stories, and the truth often lies somewhere between polarized extremes.

RELATED: Australia wanted tourists to forget climate change is a thing. It backfired.

The overall outlook is that koala populations vary throughout Australia—they are in danger of extinction in some areas, while overpopulating others. But deforestation due to farming and urbanization is an ongoing threat to koalas, who rely on eucalyptus trees for food. The recent bushfires in Australia haven't helped. Without protection they will continue to lose habitat and populations will remain threatened.

Climate change has also begun playing a role in koala population decline, as extreme weather accelerates and heatwaves become more common in Australia. Koalas can handle some heat, but they can't survive in sustained high temperatures. In urban areas, koalas also face dangers from people's pet dogs and from drivers hitting them with cars. But the biggest threat remains land loss from deforestation and habitat loss.

"They just can't live without forest, it's that simple," Adams-Hosking said. "Unless you get serious about protecting their habitat, nothing will change."

So yes, even though koalas aren't all going extinct, they are in trouble. Let's work on protecting them and all other species that are threatened by human activity. At the same time, let's make sure we turn to scientists for science and advocacy groups for advocacy. We need both, but we have to be careful about who we get statistics from and who we rely on for facts when we're sharing stories.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Memories of childhood get lodged in the brain, emerging when you least expect.

There are certain pleasurable sights, smells, sounds and tastes that fade into the rear-view mirror as we grow from being children to adults. But on a rare occasion, we’ll come across them again and it's like a portion of our brain that’s been hidden for years expresses itself, creating a huge jolt of joy.

It’s wonderful to experience this type of nostalgia but it often leaves a bittersweet feeling because we know there are countless more sensations that may never come into our consciousness again.

Nostalgia is fleeting and that's a good thing because it’s best not to live in the past. But it does remind us that the wonderful feeling of freedom, creativity and fun from our childhood can still be experienced as we age.

A Reddit user by the name of agentMICHAELscarnTLM posed a question to the online forum that dredged up countless memories and experiences that many had long forgotten. He asked a simple question, “What’s something you can bring up right now to unlock some childhood nostalgia for the rest of us?”

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